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Electronic Tagging - for the Elderly Now!

Electronic tagging could acquire greater solemnity and respectability about it. For a British minister has proposed the use of device for keeping// track of the movement of the elderly with dementia.

A British minister has come up with an innovative suggestion for keeping track of people afflicted with dementia. They could be electronically tagged, says UK Science Minister Malcolm Wicks.

In electronic tagging the tag is usually a wristband. The circuitry in the tag may either set off a boundary alarm or emit a radio signal that allows the wearer to be tracked down by means of a hand held detector.

Electronic tagging is a form of non-surreptitious surveillance consisting of an electronic device attached to a person or vehicle, allowing their whereabouts to be monitored. In general, devices locate themselves using GPS and report their position back to a control centre.

The Global Positioning System is network of satellites which provide extremely accurate position and time information. It is useful in remote locations or for moving platforms.

Electronic monitoring has been widely used in the United States for more than a decade, and now many countries in the rest of the world are introducing schemes for the tagging of certain offenders. South Africa believes it will enable 30,000 prisoners a year to be released from the country's overcrowded jails. In Sweden, tagging is used to enforce curfews for people convicted of drink-driving offences.

In England and Wales, magistrates and judges can impose a court curfew order as an alternative to sending an offender to prison.

Minister Wicks said that electronic tagging would give sufferers "freedom to roam around their communities." Of course it would be done only with permission either from them or their family.

"This is about dignity and independence in old age," he said in an interview.

They could have the safety and security that t hey would wish for themselves and certainly their families would feel more reassured.

Dementia is a condition characterised by a progressive decline of mental abilities accompanied by changes in personality and behaviour. There is commonly a loss of memory and skills that are needed to carry out everyday activities.

It is a significant cause of illness within the UK population. An estimated 5% of those over the age of 65 have dementia, rising to 20% over the age of 80. Doctors point out that dementia results in stress to carers, referrals to psychiatric services and hospital admissions, problems in the hospital environment, and an unknown number of deaths. The prevalence of wandering is over 40%.

Actually electronic tagging of patients with dementia and wandering was introduced in a hospital in the UK five years ago and experts were satisfied with the results.

Kate Jopling, of Help The Aged, said, "At first glance, these proposals may smack of the Big Brother state, but we shouldn't dismiss the potential of new technologies to afford dignity and opportunity to vulnerable older people," she said.

But there are those who perceive it as contrary to human dignity and freedom, with its connotations of criminal surveillance.

There is also the risk of withdrawal of staff and financial resources from the care of people with complex needs. Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, warned against "gimmicks" which appear to offer "cheap and quick fixes." /M

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